Professional Sumo Culture

By Staff Writer
September 22, 2023
Sumo wrestling, Japan’s national sport, has a vibrant history. It is said to have its roots in a Shinto ritual dance where the most powerful men displayed their strength in front of the kami (gods or spirits) as a sign of respect and gratitude for bringing in a good harvest. It was not until the Edo period that professional sumo emerged, and its popularity quickly spread amongst the masses.
Sumo Wrestling
When a high-ranked sumo, usually a yokozuna, is defeated, spectators throw their zabuton (cushion) into the rig. This practice is called Zabuton No Mai, dating back to the Meiji era. It was customary for spectators to throw an identifiable item, such as haori (Japanese coat) with their family name on it towards the ring. This was done when their favourite rikishi (sumo wrestler) won or to cheer them on or show their excitement. The rikishi would then pick it up and return it to its owner, who would give them a goshugi (congratulatory gift). The act of throwing haori became sort of a status symbol as it could only be performed by those who could financially afford it. However, in 1909, when the first Ryogoku Kokugikan was completed, the practice of haori throwing was banned and replaced by the zabuton throwing that continues to this day.

Zabuton throwing is banned as it is considered dangerous. The audience is asked to refrain from this act through public announcements made during sumo matches. The charts handed out to spectators also contain a cautionary note prohibiting them from engaging in this practice. Tying two or three zabutons together with a string so they cannot be easily thrown away is one of the measures being taken. This custom is, nonetheless, difficult to completely prohibit in practice. It is common to see zabuton throwing at venues with no strict rules in place. There have been calls not to ban this practice, but to use other types of zabuton that do not cause injury if a person gets hit.
Sumo Ring at the Ryogoku Kokugikan
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